Archive for July 12th, 2012

Maine Blueberries

You’ve probably seen Wyman’s brand frozen blueberries at your supermarket (they originate in Maine), or frozen wild or boreal blueberries at Trader Joe’s.  These blueberries are much, much smaller than the typical fresh blueberries found in the produce section.  While there are many varieties of blueberries, there are only two types of blueberry plants:  lowbush and highbush.  Highbush blueberries are the ones that are sold fresh.  These bushes are 3′ – 5′ high, and they are the type you get at pick-your-own farms.  They are quite easy to harvest and the blueberries are about the size of the head of a thumbtack.  Lowbush blueberries, however, are a different story.  They are native to Maine, New Hampshire, and Canada, and are very hardy, surviving winters of -40 degrees F.  As their name hints, they grow very low to the ground, looking almost like groundcover rather than a bush, and rarely exceed 1′ high.  Because the berries are so tiny – maybe 1/4″ in diameter – – and they are so low to the ground, they are very difficult to pick – – commercial harvesters use special rakes to save on constant stooping and bending and wiping out their backs.  Lowbush blueberries are found just about everywhere here in the White Mountains (including on our property).  Bears not only love them, they depend on them as part of their summer diet.  Where there are blueberries, there are bears. That said, I thought it would be nice to have some highbush blueberries planted near our apple orchard and apiary (bee hives), since the only crops easily grown in Maine are apples, potatoes, and blueberries.  The bees will pollinate the blueberry flowers when they blossom next Spring.

Today as I drove by Paris Farmer’s Union (an agricultural version of a hardware store), I noticed a sign announcing a 40% off sale on trees and shrubs.  Fortunately that included highbush blueberries.  Why the great deal?  Well, the optimal time for planting is late Spring.  Planting in the middle of summer, when it’s so terribly hot, stresses the plant, and they may not survive.  They need much more watering than usual, and the soil has to be very rich.

While my soil here is thin and rocky, and not the most amenable to farming on its own, for the past 2 years I have been diligently adding to our compost pile, and now the tossed peels and pits of  fruits, vegetables, coffee grinds, eggshells and fallen leaves  have decomposed sufficiently to make a rich, dark loam.  The reason I started composting was not with agriculture in mind, it was of a more practical nature:  there is no trash pickup where I live and the town dump is 9 miles away, so I do anything and everything I can to cut down on the amount of trash we create and garbage bags we have to shlep.  There are no sewers here, either; we have a septic tank so we cannot have a garbage disposal.  Hence, we dispose of all vegetative matter by composting.

In the next week I will be doing some clearing near the orchard/apiary and digging several holes for the blueberry bushes.  I’ll be trenching nearby so that a seasonal stream can irrigate the new plants.  It may not look like much right now, but some day this place will (G-d willing) really be something!

note:  you can also find bargain-priced plants and trees at Home Depot and Lowes this time of year on clearance.  A few years ago in my home town, I picked up several  $40 – $60 trees for less than $10; and one absolutely dead-looking Butterfly Bush they gave me for free and it’s now a flourishing plant.